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U.S. Mulls More Sanctions On Venezuela


Vice President Mike Pence is heading to Miami today. That's a city with a big Venezuelan exile community. And Pence plans to meet with some of them. The unrest in Venezuela will surely be on the agenda, as well as the contentious question of imposing new sanctions on the regime of President Nicolas Maduro. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: The Trump administration has already imposed financial sanctions on some 30 members of Maduro's regime and barred them from traveling to the U.S. U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, have said the administration is now considering additional sanctions, including measures targeting Venezuela's main source of income, its oil industry.

That would have an impact not just on the Venezuelan government but also on its people, who are already suffering from shortages of food and medicine. But Martin Rodil, president of the Venezuelan American Leadership Council, says tough measures are necessary.

MARTIN RODIL: The sanctions will be hard. But if they're applied in a way that are massive, then you're going to force this regime to go.

ALLEN: But not all Venezuelans agree. Tens of thousands of them live in South Florida. Many, like Sonia Echezuria, have family and friends there. She supports aggressive measures by the U.S., even a military intervention, a possibility raised by President Trump. But targeting oil, she worries, would hurt the Venezuelan people.

SONIA ECHEZURIA: I do believe that it would really impact very negatively the quality of life, the very poor quality of life that Venezuelan people have at this moment.

ALLEN: But the biggest obstacle to imposing oil sanctions isn't how they would affect people in Venezuela but how they would affect people and businesses here.

CHET THOMPSON: We have 22 refineries in this country that have been optimized over the years to process heavy, Venezuelan sour crude.

ALLEN: Chet Thompson is CEO of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers. The refinery industry is most worried about a ban on imports of Venezuelan oil, about three-quarters of a million barrels a day. Thompson is asking the White House to hold off on oil sanctions for Venezuela because it will destabilize markets and likely lead to higher gas prices for U.S. consumers.

THOMPSON: Venezuelan crude accounts for approximately 9 percent of all of our imports. So if they take that step, it absolutely will have a negative impact here in the United States.

ALLEN: But there are ways to sanction Venezuela's oil industry without imposing an outright ban on the crude it sends to the U.S. Francisco Monaldi with Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy has analyzed the options available to the Trump administration in a report for the Atlantic Council. He says one idea under consideration is banning the export of American light crude to Venezuela. Banning U.S. oil exports to Venezuela appeals to the Trump administration, Monaldi says, because it would hurt Venezuela while having a limited impact on the oil industry here.

FRANCISCO MONALDI: I think they are more likely to go slowly to be sure that they do not affect too much U.S. interests and to sort of signal the Venezuelan government that if they do not have a change in behavior, then they could impose harsher sanctions.

ALLEN: It's important, Monaldi says, there's international backing for sanctions and a clear message for Venezuela on what changes in behavior are necessary for them to be lifted - also key, finding a way to get humanitarian aid to the Venezuelan people, something that up to now the Maduro regime has rejected. Greg Allen, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "KERALA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.